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Writing Rulebook

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JackDarwid
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Joined: 12/31/1969

Hi all !
Right now I'm preparing my second game (www.geocities.com/islandofd).
The game is in final playtesting form and I'm starting to finish the rulebook.

Well, then the 'feeling' comes back again (like when I write the rulebook for my first game). Everytime I re-read the rules, I ALWAYS makes changes here and there. Even if it looks OK, I'm pretty sure I will change something tomorrow.
(This is the time where I found that my first game rulebooks looks terrible, then I re-write it !).
(and I remember when I made my final assignment in university, never get enough of fixing everything !)

I use the standard breakdown of rules as suggested by many designers. And of course, I want to make the best of the rulebook (as clear and as easy to understand as possible).

So here's the question :
1. do you feel the same ?
2. when is the right time to say"ok, this is enough' for rulebook ?

Well, maybe this is just a sign that my 'rulebook writing' skill has gone up a level. :)

Jack

JPOG
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Writing Rulebook

I'm doing the same thing right now for my game and am curious about this too (and what "standard" rules are you talking about?) - I've written "rules" before but never really got to the point I'm at right now where I have to look at them with an eye to actually handing them over to someone else so they can pick them up, knowing nothing about the game, and learn it.

dete
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Writing Rulebook

I went through the same process for my flag ship game
for over TEN YEARS!!!

I'm a lot more confident in writing skills now.
I've learned to let go :)
for me I look at:

sentence structure

spacing

not too instructional ZZZZZZ

then unless I can easily improve it, I let it go.
Major improvements only, and those will probably
require rewriting the whole thing.
For the little things, not worth it for me.

btw Jack I'll add a link to your site soon, just wanted to ask for
permission. busy busy busy

hpox
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Writing Rulebook

I had a hard time 4 years ago when I started (has it been really that long?) but I'm getting better.

I'm a bit of a compulsive perfectionnist so I'm the same as you. Aim for excellence, not perfection. That's my new motto for writing rules.

Write it all up as quickly as possible. Not half-assed, but don't focus on keeping everything absolutely neat and coherent. This will slow you down enormously. You will have time to pass it over when you're done. Focus on one task. Plan what you are going to do. Don't just open your rules and start fiddling. Define a clear goal and Just Do it. Don't get distracted.

The structure of a rules document is very interesting to me for some reason. I bet there's an efficient way of structuring rules waiting to be invented/discovered.

JackDarwid
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Writing Rulebook

Hi all !!
Thanks for the replay !

I'm glad I'm not the only one :D

Here's the rules break down I do :
1. Introduction (usually the story / theme)
2. The Mission (or Game Objective)
3. Components & general explanations what each components will do in the game
4. Gameplay (this is the main part, how to play, and an explanation of each phase/turn of game play)
5. Special conditions : any special cases that need explanation explains here.
6. Win/Lose condition (more detailed than in 2), and scoring
7. FAQ (if any)
8. Game credits

And here's how I write the rules :
1. start writing the rulebook in the middle of the game's platesting process. Write everything first (agree with Hpox !)
2. Playtest some more then upgrade your rules (usually the rule will evolve as the game evolve).
3. Reread the rules, upgrade the rules.

Repeat step 2 and 3 as long as you can :D
This is why I open this Topic. When is the time we say 'ok, this is enough' because it seems it's a long-dark tunnel here :D

Any sharing are welcome !

To Dete : OK, I will add your link to mine. You can add mine to yours.
To Hpox : thanks for the coloring of Island Of D cover !!

Jack
www.geocities.com/islandofd

OutsideLime
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Writing Rulebook

Generally, writing the rulebook comes early in the process of designing a game for me, certainly before making a prototype, or even a playable one. I'm a rules guy... when I rent a videogame with buddies, I will let one of them man the controls while I man the instruction manual... that's just me though.

I find when writing rulebooks that priority of information is the most important thing. Everything should be learned by the player in the proper order. The fewer "See the ??? Section for details" comments, the better. If you can manage to have a new player read through your rulebook without flipping back and forth constantly to other pages, your priority of information is smooth. The more complicated the rules, the more necessary the jumping-around becomes of course, but I try to limit it.

Consistency. If something has a name, stick to that name in all instances. i.e. If you are referring to a play area as "the war zone", don't refer to it as "the battlefield" or "the combat area" somewhere else. Stick to War Zone. Removes confusion.

Break it up, if you can. People digest small bits easier. A whole page with no breaks or headings will be VERY difficult for a player to comprehend, or to look up something later when a note of contention arises. I prefer many small paragraphs with clear headings.

When is it enough? I do strive for perfection over excellence, myself. A lot of CCGs and complicated wargames make this virtually impossible, since these types of games are normally designed to allow for the maximum amnount of player creativity in terms of strategies and unique tactics and blending of components... BUT, for games of smaller scope, I do believe that perfection is possible in a ruleset.

You could easily write a perfect set of rules for Tic-Tac-Toe, for example. What's perfect? Perfect is when all possible situations that may arise in the game are covered by the rules. If any player asks a question, the answer is in the rules. You as the designer will not always be sitting there with the answer, after all.

I had a job as a "software regression tester" for awhile. Accounting software for construction firms, wheee. New programs would arrive in my inbox and I would spend all day testing every feature of every menu and every button and every combinaton thereof and so on, until the entire scope of the program proved to be functional. This is kind of how I view the "ruletesting" process for my games. I run through them many many times, playing not to win, but to insure that every feature of the game is fully covered by the rulebook in any scenario. When I am confident that everything is in there, it's done.

~Josh

Anonymous
Writing Rulebook

JackDarwid put together an excellent list of things to include, and I find I do something fairly similar. I try to view category headers for rules like a Table of Contents. Most game rules I produce follow this formula:

Overview (100 word summary of game concept and winning condition)

Components (list of items included in the game)

Key Concepts (if needed -- this is where I introduce brand new mechanics or quirks to the gameplay)

Setup (discuss what needs to be done prior to play)

Turn Order Overview (bullet point, brief list of phase/order/turn structure)

Detailed Turn View (step by step, everything spelled out)

Scoring/End Game (detail victory conditions, scoring methods, etc)

Variants (if needed, changes for 2 player, multiplayer, playing sets, etc)

Credits (writer, playtesters, artists, etc)

... As for "when is enough really enough?" Well, that's a tough question. Eventually I reach a point where I decide that it's detailed enough that others should be able to play the game with no questons about mechanics. Then, it's off to playtesters, who will be the real gauge as to the completeness/clarity of the rules.

There's a writing axim from my college writing courses that I maintain to this day -- and has served me well in journalism, creative writing, RPG writing, copywriting and rules writing -- Stick to the ABCs.

Accuracy - Your information should be as accurate as possible. You need to hit important points with the facts. Keeping the tone objective helps maintain accuracy.

Brevity - Keep it short. Avoid flowery adjectives and unnecessary comments. Shorter rules are easier to read and digest.

Clarity - Be crystal clear with definitions and directions. Choose your words carefully so you're conveying the proper message.

Best of luck!

larienna
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Joined: 07/28/2008
Writing Rulebook

There is a difference between the rules and the text that explain the rules.

Do you rewrite the rulebook because there is a bug in the rules or because the text is not written well enough.

If it is a bug in the rules, do not write the rule book. If you need to share the information with somebody else, then write a skeletton document that write the most important information to understand the rule. When the game works perfectly now you write the rule book.

For the rule book, I write it in a maximum of 3 times.

First writing : You write the idea as in comes according to a structure you have established.

Second writting : You read what you have written, and reformulate the sentense when the text does not flow as you want.

Third writting : Correct the typo, orthograph and grammar.

You can split you rule book in parts and apply each step for each part.

Anonymous
Re: Writing Rulebook

JackDarwid wrote:

So here's the question :
1. do you feel the same ?
2. when is the right time to say"ok, this is enough' for rulebook ?

Well, maybe this is just a sign that my 'rulebook writing' skill has gone up a level. :)

Jack

1. Yeah, sometimes it's a daunting task. Luckily for me I have an hour train ride to and from work in which I can un-daunt it. Generally I pull out my yellow legal pad, my pencil and my evil grin and just hammer away at it until I have a rough rule book. Then I type everything up.

2. My big test is give the game and the rulebook to a group of people who've never played before and seeing how it goes. If they can refer to the rulebook whenever they have a question and the rules tell them how to deal with it, then it's enough. Well, I also run it through a spell checker, a co-worker and my wife as well.

Cheers!
Ben

Anonymous
Writing Rulebook

stynx brings up a good point... Sometimes the only way to know is to put the game into the hands of some testers and let 'em try it out. The hard part is to not "teach" them the game (after all, you know what everything means), but rather, let them read the rules and piece it together themselves. That can reveal a lot about the clarity of the rules.

JackDarwid
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Writing Rulebook

"Do you rewrite the rulebook because there is a bug in the rules or because the text is not written well enough. "
Answer : Because the text is not written well enough.

Yeah, maybe what we can do is reread-replay-rewrite as long as we can, then "give the game and the rulebook to a group of people who've never played before and seeing how it goes."
(it's easier in my case, because my first game is a solo game, and now I am preparing another solo game)

If they say OK, then the rules is ready.

or, until we reread-replay-rewrite again :D

jack

Infernal
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Writing Rulebook

A good quot for this is:

Quote:
"A game is never finished, only abandoned."

Actually I think it was also said about art, books and movies.

When I first start wirting the rules, my process is to

First I brain storm the rules. I do this by writing down all rules I think that I might be able to use, even some alternate rules for particular mechanics.

The next step is to select from this mess the rules that best create the game I am trying to make.

Then I modify the rules and add more or remove where nessesary.

Then I solo playtest these (sometimes just in my head as a thought experiment).

Only now do I actually start to write the rule book.

I will work on and off on the text in the rule book (usually leaving it about 3 days or so) and critically review the rules looking for gaps etc.

Finally I will then get some people to playtest it. First I will teach the rules and then as a blind/cold playtest where I don't gert involved.

I will keep repeating the last 2 untill the rules make sense to the playtesters and I am sure it covers all the rules.

Finnally I will do a proofread of the rule book and make sure all the graphics are ok.

Hedge-o-Matic
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Joined: 07/30/2008
Writing Rulebook

The best way to improve here is to give the rules to someone else, and have them learn the game from reading them. That'll really give you true feedback. As a designer, we know what the rules mean, and as the writer, we read what we expect to read. Well, sometimes the writing doesn't say what you think it does, and sometimes the rules you've written don't mean what you think they mean. This is a real eye-opener.

Anonymous
Writing Rulebook

I think there's a fairly general consensus that one of the best ways to learn is by someone unfamiliar with the game to read the rules and try to play. Same way with writing RPG modules -- I know exactly what I mean, so I sometimes mentally fill in the blanks for poorly written or ambiguous descriptions -- but someone reading it for the first time can quickly spot something that sticks out like that.

larienna
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Joined: 07/28/2008
Writing Rulebook

A good thing that you need before writting a rule book is good teaching skills. So take a review of how good you are to teach stuff to other by whatever mean (oral or written). If you can't teach correctly to others, you will surely have an hard time writting your rule book.

OutsideLime
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Writing Rulebook

That's actually a great point... If you feel that you are good at verbally explaining your games to people, then "watch" yourself do so, and make mental notes (or actual notes) as to the order that you explain things to people, the things that make them go "aha, I get it", and so on.

Also, don't undervalue a diagram, illustration, or photo. Sometimes I find that it takes an incredibly complicated sentence to explain something that an image could convey simply.

~Josh

Anonymous
Writing Rulebook

Ah yes -- the old "picture worth a thousand words" ... I try to include diagrams and pictures whenever possible... Especially a look at sample cards, a closeup of a gameboard, etc.

I also tend to include examples in rules to reinforce certain mechanics which may be different or new to the player... For example, if I've introduced a new bidding mechanic, I'll definitely show an example of that bidding mechanic at work so it's less likely someone will misinterpret the intent.

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